Winter events at Burlington's Waterfront Park are in limbo. A permitting controversy has the city and a popular charity scrambling to find a solution.
Whether participants dive or just dip, the chilly mid-winter swim makes a lot of money for Special Olympics Vermont.
"The Plunge raises about 40 percent of our operating budget," said Lisa DeNatale, CEO of Special Olympics Vermont.
That equals about $400,000. But Burlington's Penguin Plunge may be in peril.
"So, I think it would be very difficult to replicate that kind of experience if we weren't able to have it on Waterfront Park," DeNatale said.
The problem is permitting. Right now, the park only has Act 250 approval for events held May 27-September 15.
Now, 18 years after the Penguin Plunge began, some neighbors raised concerns about noise and traffic.
And time is not on the charity's side. Its permit gets reviewed in November, a few months before the event. Planners say that will sink the fundraiser.
"It would make it almost impossible to run an event," DeNatale explained.
"I think it's disappointing that that's under legal challenge right now," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.
The city stands behind the Penguin Plunge. Officials have applied for an amendment to the park's Act 250 permit.
"I am hopeful that the district commission will ultimately say that 'clearly we'll agree with the great majority of Burlingtonians that it's important to have great events like the Penguin Plunge during the winter months,'" Weinberger said.
The governor says he'll push for faster permit changes, too.
"I'm going to be an eager penguin working together to make sure that penguins plunge," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.
The Special Olympics says anytime but winter just won't make sense for a Penguin Plunge.
"I think there's something about jumping into the lake in the middle of the winter that would not be the same if it were in May or June," DeNatale said.
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